In Flamenco cante jondo (deep song), in moments of extreme intensity, the cantaor (singer) is sometimes said to be possessed by an ancient spirit, called a Duende. Some believe this is really happening. Others believe it is 'just' sublime art. The cantaors themselves have different views on this.
Garcia Lorca (Spanish poet 1898-1936) wrote a lot on the subject, and seems to have been of the view that duende was merely an acute awareness of death pervading and colouring the cantaor's music. Certainly the fatalistic Flamenco culture is never far below the surface in their song and dance.
There's a modern tendency to babble about duende every time someone strums a few chords on a flamenco guitar, but this can be dismissed as nonsense.
What do we think? Does this possession really take place, and if so is the Duende good, evil or neither? Or is Lorca correct in saying duende is 'only' perfect art?
I don't believe in dividing things into "good" and "evil".
I believe we are often "possessed", because the illusion of a consistent self is just that - illusion. In reality, who we ARE is shaped by the people around us, our past history, and where we direct our attention at any moment in time.
It is easy to be "caught up" in an idea, a mood, a mission, and organisation, an addiction, a love affair, or an obsessive thought process - this is what it is to be "possessed".
We are all aware of our own mortality on some level, and we are all good at denial - without it we would have adrenaline washing through our systems 24/7 until we exhausted our adrenal glands and got depression or chronic fatigue in its place.
I would argue that the denial is more a form of "possession" than the awareness of death. Denial is the artificial construct which we watch with hypnotic fascination and cannot let go. Inevitable death is the reality, and being aware of it is being more our natural selves than being in denial.
And the awareness of inevitable death is not evil, or good - it just is.
Which is one of the reasons I gave the third option - 'neither'
But if I understand you well, I think you are equating the peak of the cantaor's performance with being wholly natural and 'letting go' of everything except the song and the moment. And if I'm correct, you're coming down on the side of denying the existence of Duendes as living 'spirits'. Fairly pro-Lorca in this respect?
I toyed for a while whether this thread would be better posted in the Arts forum than here, and in view of the fairly low interest it has generated, that might have been the better option. Nevertheless, before letting it die, I'll tell a true story.
I was on the fringes of the London Flamenco scene for quite a few years (and London being London, Flamenco here is on a par with Andalusia if you know where to go). One evening I was in one of the small basement clubs and noticed Manuel de Huelva drinking at the bar. Manuel is one of the great gypsy cantaors, and something of a wild man and free spirit.
Tonight he's drinking with a friend. He doesn't sing here. This club is too small for him but he's here for the ambiente, to be among his own, and relax. A few people, mainly tourists, have already approached him and asked him to sing, but been given short shrift. I'm on casual speaking terms with him and know how these things work. I send him a large brandy. He raises his glass to me. I take the opportunity to say, "One song, if the mood takes you", and slip ten pounds into his hand. He nods, and nothing happens for an hour or so.
He takes the stage and sings a fandango (not his native Fandango de Huelva, but one I can't name). It's in a different league from anything we've heard tonight and already I'm happy my money's been well spent. Now he closes his eyes and starts beating a slow heavy pulse on the box seat where he's sitting. The guitarist waits for him, clearly not yet sure what's happening. Manual launches into a Tientos, a slow, heavy overwrought style that only the best can get away with. The guitarist catches on immediately, and for the next five minutes there is only Manuel, his huge deep voice, tears running down his face, his beating hands, the incisive guitar, answering, prodding. And the feeling, shared by everyone present, that something else is present. Something invisible, somehow alive, anguished, and desperate to be heard. certainly suffering, but in control.
I've heard Manuel many times before and since, but that experience was beyond my understanding. I've heard others speak of similar events. I don't believe it was 'just' a fine performance. Duende? Maybe.
Wonderful story! I didn't reply to your original post because I've never thought of duende as being a force outside the individual singer or dancer. If I tried to define it, I would use words like fusion of the music and the performer, soul, charisma, magnetism, deep emotional connection.
Thanks Marisa. I know you've been a Flamenco dancer and must have come across the term. I've heard it used too liberally, even describing recorded performances, which I think debases it. And I've met a few who insist these are real ancient spirits waiting to speak to us through a suitable medium, usually a great singer. I just don't know, which is why I asked the question.
I missed the post altogether. Must of been burried under the blizard of big moe.
It is a difficult question to answer accurately, because to define "living spirit" and how that fits with the structure of the Universe, time/space continuum, levels of consciousness, maya, emotional contagion and memes would take at least 10,000 words.
For me, it is a loose and careless usage of language to describe making contact with something outside one's normal day-to-day awareness as "channelling" or "contacting spirits" in the sense of there being separate beings, because separateness does not actually exist.
We all have access to all experiences, but we do not know all the keys to shift our awareness appropriately to reach each of the infinite many possible past present future alternate experiences that exist. We accidentally stumble upon them from time to time - flamenco players find it in the music, Native American tribesmen in the drums, monks in meditation, hippies in LSD.
I believe what they contact, what they experience, is real. But not that is it a separate living being - it is less separate than a human being. It is in all of us, which is why we are enthralled when someone contacts it and expresses it out loud.
Does that make it any clearer, or simply muddy the verbal waters even more?
I think that is very probably true, though the separateness/oneness theme would be hard to 'prove'. Certainly many people believe in 'personal' duende. Unfortunately, I have know idea what the singer in my story, Manuel de Huelva, thought about this. I never knew him well enough to discuss such things.
Duende, never heard of it. Assuming it means estatic static limited mostly to flamenco. However I have had some such experiences since I was 20. Could have one right now. For me the best way to describe it, assuming it is the same thing, is think of your best orgasim and magnify it 10 or 20 times. I call it
nervous orgasim. It's like an orgasim without the sex. It can last
from one to ten minutes or however much before your exhausted. Used to be when I was young I could concentrate say on the beauty of a tree, and fall into a spastic state. Might be related to Epilepsy. Thought that was cool, but found it to be dangerous, say if it were to happen while driving, so quit encouraging it. I restricted it to music, certain mostly instrumental peak performances. Don't do it much anymore cause I have muscle pain. For me purely an estatic state, although one can be thinking very high thoughts at the same time which enhances it. Never related it to spiritual visitation, although if one had that sort of mind, they might interpret it that way.
Interesting development, and one that makes sense in the context of Flamenco. The roots of the music, or more accurately of the cante jondo styles, are Moorish, stemming from the Moors invasion and annexing of Spain early in the 8th Century (AD). But although you can hear the Arabian influences in Flamenco, the music became far darker in Spain. Far angrier, tougher and sexually charged. (Unlike the male Arabian culture, Spanish/gypsy culture was mixed). I suspect the intensity of the music owes much to the period of brutal oppression.
Some believe that the duendes are 'earth-bound' spirits from this tortured period, who speak to us through the medium of some musicians, and only if the 'conditions' are just right. In this view, it is not so different from spiritualism - maybe just a more romantic wing of it.
Duende drags the soul into a painful past to feed off of it for artistic expression. It is evil.
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